Like teenagers on vacation with their parents, Republicans from blue states and Democrats from red states don't want to be seen with party elders.
"I don't spend a lot of time thinking about Mitt Romney," Elizabeth Emken, the Republican who will face off against Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein in November, recently told me. "That's the truth. I've never met him."
Emken thinks she has a shot at winning the election precisely because she is not the pick of the GOP establishment. "We've had millionaires and billionaires and CEOs and movie stars," said Emken in a not-so-subtle swipe at former top-of-the ticket Republicans Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina and Arnold Schwarzenegger. "We need folks running."
Emken won't attend the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., this week. "I don't think there's any concrete reason I should go," she said.
When you're running as a Republican in a one-party (not yours) state, it's every candidate for herself. And make no mistake: California is home to more liberals than conservatives. Democrats represent about 43 percent of voters, compared with the GOP's 30 percent; they hold every statewide office and control both houses of the Legislature.
Undaunted by the challenge of winning congressional seats in California, GOP House Whip Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield took a break from fundraising in San Francisco last month to tell political reporters of his plan. McCarthy showed up with three "young guns" -- candidates who can raise money and build an organization and he says, have a solid shot at winning in November. He is working to rebuild the Republican bench one seat at a time. The "young guns":
1. Colusa County Supervisor Kim Vann is challenging Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove (Sacramento County). "It's no secret I kept off the social issues in the primary," said Vann, who describes herself as "personally pro-life" but "I don't believe that I should be making that choice for other women."
Vann also departs from the GOP base in her refusal to sign Americans for Tax Reform's infamous no-new-taxes pledge. She doesn't plan to vote for tax increases, she said, but also, "I don't think it's good government to tie your hands."
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